From the archives – A Thanksgiving Anthem, by William Billings by Christine Potter

A Thanksgiving Anthem, by William Billings

Ye dragons, whose contagious breath
People the corridors of death
Change your dire hissings into heavenly song
And praise your maker with your forked tongues
—William Billings, 1794 – (a paraphrase of Psalm 148)

For-ked, with two syllables, and six or eight
sixteenth notes on “for”. Repeatedly. For
measure after measure. Breath control,
says my husband. He reminds me it was

my idea our choir sing this anthem. It’s what
I deserve for having cocktails with him and
a Sacred Harp CD. William Billings, leather
tanner, street sweeper, composer, missing

an eye, one leg shorter than the other, loved
dragons. Hissing dragons, especially, because
he could win even them. So what if they
smelled bad and King James gives them just

one word in Psalm 148? Billings turned his
anthem into dragons, turned his whole choir
into dragons, turned choirs into dragons two
hundred and twenty years into the future.

And because of his love, the dragons were
grateful. They unfolded their napkins and
ate turkey and Indian Pudding. Make sure
you hit the “s” in “hissings”, my husband says:

Hissssingss! Thus instructed, our lizard-like
scales include the whole world, as they were
intended to. See? The dragons are carrying
everyone’s plates to the kitchen sink. Alleluia!

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, November 26, 2015 — by Christine Potter

Why I Don’t Take Xanax by Christine Potter

Why I Don’t Take Xanax

Because the sky outside right now is both
grey and violet and enough leaves are gone
that I can finally see it from my desk. Because

pills only teach you how to swallow. Because
it’s late but not yet evening. Because my cat has
jumped off my desk and I can type without her

tail on the keyboard. Because there are too many
rattling bottles in the world and I do not want
another one, or anyone’s permission to own it.

Because it’s gotten dark but the sky is still violet.
Because my worries are two screech owls, talking
back and forth, somewhere up the valley. Because

screech owls are quite small and almost invisible
by day, with dappled grey feathers like tree bark.
Because 2 AM is relative and it’s not 2 AM yet.

Because 2 AM passes like a stranger whistling
on his way home. Because I never wanted my
heart to walk a straight line in this magic world.

by Christine Potter

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Amazon Author Page

Editor’s Note: The repetition in this poem emphasizes the condition of the narrator—worried, a bit lost, but still uncomfortably sane (and surprisingly optimistic), as all of us are in the midst of this uncontrollable world.

On A Film Clip Of New York City From 1911 by Christine Potter

On A Film Clip Of New York City From 1911

Most people are slender. The air is bright and thick
behind them: men walk in dark suits, women
often in white, waists nipped tight, black parasols.

Overheated children squint from roofless autos
that share the avenues with trolleys and horses.
Horse poop, in fact, is everywhere. No one drives

around it. Smoke and steam rise from the chimneys
of boats and buildings. A wall of ivy shimmers
on a church. Chinese grocers, a remembered smell

of ripe peaches and dill weed: fifty years from then,
fifty years before now. (In the shade of a shop with
my grandmother, a hot afternoon, dollars counted

into her hand, chicken breasts, salad. The black
sheen of my grandfather’s car.) Edwardian high
windows, the brickwork around them not sooty yet.

(The train home carrying me past those tenements,
the news in my lap, during Watergate.) No one’s still
alive, but a riverside breeze moves the trees. I smell

creosote and the distant ocean. Walking across
Brooklyn Bridge, two teenaged boys—one white,
one black—hold hands, turn to smile at the camera.

by Christine Potter

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Editor’s Note: The meticulous punctuation of this poem emphasizes its careful narrative. The slow movement from past to present is almost unnoticed until the last line drops into view.

From the archives – Singing My First Funeral by Christine Potter

Singing My First Funeral

I think his last name was Messerich. His first…Charlie?
Probably. I hear my father’s voice saying it with

that friendly lilt men use to mean a good guy: Charlie
Messerich, church sexton during those few years Dad

tried believing what the rest of us did. Charlie’s funeral.
Everyone else was still alive. Sextons cleaned, fixed things—

but clearly not everything. Like having to die. Zion Church
looked embalmed as ever: dim, airless, polished, Victorian—

even with Sputnik twinkling in circles over our heads.
Someone else must have cleaned, I thought, and wondered

why I couldn’t cry. I knew you were supposed to. One girl
whose name I’ve also lost crayoned a picture: a man labeled

Charlie Messerich leading the Junior Choir skywards, all
our arms out straight before us like movie monsters, all

our kimono-sleeved choir robes dragging behind us on
pink and orange clouds. Melissa, maybe. I’d watched her

roll Italian bread into little balls and swallow handfuls
of them at the Spaghetti Dinner. Kids said her parents had

to call the ambulance and get her stomach pumped. Would
she have died? She cried at the funeral, and I could not.

Hymns. An anthem. It was just more church, and not
even Good Friday. I never asked her about her stomach.

Afterwards, I took off my starchy collar and freed my hair
and bobby pins from my choir beanie for The Reception

in the Parish Hall. Everyone’s mother smiled through
a haze of heated-over ham and pineapple slices too dense

for me to want any. I don’t think I ever cried, even later,
back home. I scuffed the soles of my patent leather shoes

all the way to my parents’ car. All afternoon, everything
was too bright, like staring at a bare light bulb. Like Heaven.

from Autumn Sky Poetry DAILY, January 24, 2017 — by Christine Potter

Pushcart Prize Nominations – 2017

logoborderlite

I am happy to announce the following poems have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize:

Sonnet to negotiate peace with your dementia by Tracy Lee Karner

The Morning of My Madness Waking by Jim Zola

No I in Team by Ed Shacklee

The First Night by Devon Balwit

Moving Day by Alan Walowitz

After the Ghost Investigation by Christine Potter

Congratulations and good luck!

After The Ghost Investigation by Christine Potter

After The Ghost Investigation

The local writer on the paranormal with her camera,
electromagnetic meter, and infared thermometer,
having stayed, as she explained she must, long past sunset,

came back downstairs egg white-wan, silent. Her colleague,
with his day job in law enforcement, looked lost as the ring
of brown feathers left after a cat runs into the bushes.

You have them. We found you two. In the room across from
our bedroom, in the room behind my office. Her voice might
have been shaking. Just old spirits who don’t care to leave.

Not harmful. The one upstairs doesn’t know he’s dead.
I offered brandy, which no one wanted. Later, alone, or
perhaps not, my husband and I went to bed and addressed

our new-found guests: How are you, Mr. Ghost? No–that’s
disrespectful! No–you can’t really believe… When I turned off
our bedside lamp, darkness I’d once understood occupied itself

fully as it grew larger and larger–a black bloodstain, a backwards
mirror glinting what sorrow? A distant headlight? Or just
the flickerings ghosts know, caught here if they are here, never

driving away. These walls, see how they’ve changed from
what they used to be? Our bodies, too: how they change without
our permission! And see how long, how very long night lasts?

by Christine Potter

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Editor’s Note: This poem at first seems lighthearted, but the ominous dread of the investigating characters slowly bleeds into the living hosts of the ghosts’ house.

Singing My First Funeral by Christine Potter

Singing My First Funeral

I think his last name was Messerich. His first…Charlie?
Probably. I hear my father’s voice saying it with

that friendly lilt men use to mean a good guy: Charlie
Messerich, church sexton during those few years Dad

tried believing what the rest of us did. Charlie’s funeral.
Everyone else was still alive. Sextons cleaned, fixed things—

but clearly not everything. Like having to die. Zion Church
looked embalmed as ever: dim, airless, polished, Victorian—

even with Sputnik twinkling in circles over our heads.
Someone else must have cleaned, I thought, and wondered

why I couldn’t cry. I knew you were supposed to. One girl
whose name I’ve also lost crayoned a picture: a man labeled

Charlie Messerich leading the Junior Choir skywards, all
our arms out straight before us like movie monsters, all

our kimono-sleeved choir robes dragging behind us on
pink and orange clouds. Melissa, maybe. I’d watched her

roll Italian bread into little balls and swallow handfuls
of them at the Spaghetti Dinner. Kids said her parents had

to call the ambulance and get her stomach pumped. Would
she have died? She cried at the funeral, and I could not.

Hymns. An anthem. It was just more church, and not
even Good Friday. I never asked her about her stomach.

Afterwards, I took off my starchy collar and freed my hair
and bobby pins from my choir beanie for The Reception

in the Parish Hall. Everyone’s mother smiled through
a haze of heated-over ham and pineapple slices too dense

for me to want any. I don’t think I ever cried, even later,
back home. I scuffed the soles of my patent leather shoes

all the way to my parents’ car. All afternoon, everything
was too bright, like staring at a bare light bulb. Like Heaven.

by Christine Potter

Christine on Facebook

Christine’s Amazon Author Page

Editor’s Note: The detailed voice of the narrator meticulously leads the reader through her first experience with death as a singer, and offers the realization that nothing is as simple as she thought. The last couplet is a killer.

Dr. Haller Nutt’s Half-Built, Octagonal Mansion by Christine Potter

Dr. Haller Nutt’s Half-Built, Octagonal Mansion

Longwood Plantation, Natchez, Mississippi

For one hundred years, his family lived on in its cellar,
the upstairs walls sketched in raw lumber on bare brick.
Construction steps still spiral a rough, dizzy geometry

five stories up inside the dome. But by 1861, he’d frilled
each porch column in wooden lace. The huge roof and
Great War were on. Dr. Nutt owned 800 slaves. He died

before the end of hostilities. Left his daughters to play
with salesmen’s models of never-delivered chairs. Left us
this unimaginable eight-sided loss: pneumonia, poverty,

a paralyzing void passed generation to generation. Left
the smell of clay, of dust swimming in sunlight, a bench
lined in rusty tools, a piano’s empty shipping case tipped

on its side, grey as an cast-off bandage. You can buy a ticket
or rent the place for your holiday party. Everyone knew this
could never be finished. Everyone knows it still isn’t done.

by Christine Potter

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Editor’s Note: Sometimes the decay of a place stands in for the decay of a family (or of a country). This poem about Longwood Plantation illustrates that beautifully.

A Thanksgiving Anthem, by William Billings – Christine Potter

A Thanksgiving Anthem, by William Billings

Ye dragons, whose contagious breath
People the corridors of death
Change your dire hissings into heavenly song
And praise your maker with your forked tongues
—William Billings, 1794 – (a paraphrase of Psalm 148)

For-ked, with two syllables, and six or eight
sixteenth notes on “for”. Repeatedly. For
measure after measure. Breath control,
says my husband. He reminds me it was

my idea our choir sing this anthem. It’s what
I deserve for having cocktails with him and
a Sacred Harp CD. William Billings, leather
tanner, street sweeper, composer, missing

an eye, one leg shorter than the other, loved
dragons. Hissing dragons, especially, because
he could win even them. So what if they
smelled bad and King James gives them just

one word in Psalm 148? Billings turned his
anthem into dragons, turned his whole choir
into dragons, turned choirs into dragons two
hundred and twenty years into the future.

And because of his love, the dragons were
grateful. They unfolded their napkins and
ate turkey and Indian Pudding. Make sure
you hit the “s” in “hissings”, my husband says:

Hissssingss! Thus instructed, our lizard-like
scales include the whole world, as they were
intended to. See? The dragons are carrying
everyone’s plates to the kitchen sink. Alleluia!

by Christine Potter

Christine on Facebook

In lieu of my usual Editor’s note, I give you Christine’s explanation: “It’s an oddball piece I wrote last year about an early American Thanksgiving anthem with musical sound effects that mimic the hissing of dragons as they praise God, and so are redeemed. For real. Guy who wrote it was a nut!”

Editor’s addendum: Give thanks! I almost posted this poem for today:

There once was a turkey named Byrd—
had a temper as foul as a turd.
With Thanksgiving day dread
he hid in the head
and yelled: Go away, I’m a shit not a bird!

Hanging Out on the Old Croton Aqueduct by Christine Potter

Hanging Out on the Old Croton Aqueduct

Dobbs Ferry, the early 1970’s

The last thing we thought of was water but
long pipes to The City were still there, buried
beneath a grassy trail that led only to itself,

really. It was Middle Earth, or pen and ink
drawings from an old children’s book, with
round stone towers barely taller than we were,

like toy castles. Someone had heard they were
ventilators left over from 1840 and always
said so as we passed them. Then we all knew it

and forgot about them. What we drank was
beer, or when we were stupid, Southern Comfort,
which was like swallowing pine cones instead

of kicking them as we walked. Twenty-six
miles from The Bronx to The Dam, in Croton.
No one jogged then, so no adults—except for

someone mowing the shady back yard of his own
enormous house in Irvington. He ignored us,
we him. Back behind Mercy College, past the

nuns’ cemetery with its Stations of the Cross,
each sad and holy scene set in what looked like
a bird house. I found them beautiful and knew

better than to say so. We never walked the
whole trail. It could have been a foreign country,
even endless. Home from college, our guitars

dangling upside down over our shoulders.
We’d end up at Jimmie’s, order manicotti,
baked clams, Chianti in a rattan basket. And

my brother wiped everyone’s plate clean with a
heel of Italian bread. So the chef came out and
pounded his shoulder. You’re a good boy! he said.

by Christine Potter

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Editor’s Note: This narrative poem uses imagery to convey nostalgia and to compress a childhood into a few lines. At the end, even if you’ve never been to the Croton Aqueduct, you find yourself nodding along because you’ve done all of these things, either in this life or the next.